Revealing the new Wonder Woman

Sometimes the most unexpected things spark the most interest and debate. For example, last week DC Comics announced a new look and direction for one of their oldest, and most famous characters - the original female superhero, Wonder Woman. There was little wonder that the online comic geek community was abuzz at the news. However, what was most surprising was the amount of press devoted to the revamp by "serious" news publications and agencies like The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the BBC. In recent years these same sources had pretty much ignored other, arguable more important, comic stories - such as the death of Batman/Bruce Wayne, and the "resetting" of the Spider-Man universe.

Of course, there are reasons for the mainstream news coverage. There has been a great deal of outcry about the Wonder Woman costume change, with people complaining about everything from how it is anti-American to strip out the US flag elements of the original costume; to how sexist it is to shred Diana's signature look and origin story, turning her into a Superman clone instead. Then there are the vocal fans who think the new "urban chic" costume is already horribly dated-looking, as if it has been lifted straight from the early 90s comic book scene.

Personally, I'm prepared to give the new look a chance (with the exception of the stupid spurs), but I do agree that the costume is definitely not as "21st Century" as the press releases have been punting it. The outfit reminds me a lot of the jacket-and-unitard treatment given to Rogue in the X-Men comics and animated TV series of the 90s. Influences within the DC universe, meanwhile, seem to be the Superboy clone from the same time period, with a touch of Donna Troy - who is Wonder Woman's "sister" out of interest.

What I find more concerning that the outfit itself are rumours that the new character design could be used instead of the iconic original costume when Warner Bros. finally makes the Wonder Woman film (apparently aiming now for a 2013 release). That would mean the end of my hopes for a World War II-set Wonder Woman film, which would perfectly accommodate the character in her star-spangled panties without stretching credibility too much.

For the record, Wonder Woman was created in the early 1940s by William Moulton Marston, a prominent psychologist, inventor of the lie detector and former critic of comic books who had an about-turn in his opinion when he decided to seize the educational potential of comics. Believing in the need for more emotionally balanced, less aggressive heroes as role models for children, Marston decided to create a character who was both tough yet tender. His wife suggested that the character be female, and an feminist icon - the first woman superhero - was born.

Of course it's worth noting at this point that Marston also had a definite bondage fetish, and this impacted greatly on the Golden Age Wonder Woman, who was forever being tied up. Marston also justified his superheroine with the heavily suggestive S&M statement, "Give men an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to and they'll be proud to become her willing slaves!"

Anyway, until now, Wonder Woman has remained largely untouched as a character, undergoing only minor changes - with the exception of a much maligned period in the late 1960s and 70s when, stripped of her powers, she donned a white jump suit and took up martial arts and conventional weaponry to fight evil.

Traditionally Wonder Woman is from Paradise Island, an isolationist, women-only community of Amazons that dates back thousands of years - and is closely tied to the Greek Gods of Olympus. The daughter of Queen Hippolyta, Wonder Woman, or, more correctly, Diana, is the most accomplished of the island's warrior women. Gifted with unparalleled strength, speed, intelligence, beauty and many more abilities by the greatest of the Greek goddesses, Diana is in fact the most powerful of all heroines in the DC universe. She is even capable of defeating Supergirl and holding her own in combat with Superman.

Acting as a Paradise Island ambassador, and keen to explore a world she has never experienced, Diana is committed to upholding the Amazonian values of love, peace and equality for all. This said, she's also a highly trained warrior and, as such, does not shy away from the use of deadly force. Along with her many powers, Wonder Woman also has a number of god-forged tools at her disposal. The most famous of these are her indestructible Bracelets of Victory, which can deflect bullets, her razor-sharp tiara and a Lasso of Truth, which forces complete subservience on those bound by it. In some interpretations Diana even owns an invisible airplane.

In the new Wonder Woman treatment by Babylon 5's J. Michael Straczynski - which came into effect with issue #600 of the comic - Diana has been raised from infancy in our world. As a 3 year old she was evacuated from Paradise Island when it was attacked by a mysterious invading force, and the vast majority of Amazons decimated in the battle that followed. Now in her early twenties Diana lives life on the run from the deadly Amazon exterminators, assisting other refugee Amazons, and learning about her powers and the proud history of her people as she goes.

The thing is, the story is also a lot more complicated than that - because Wonder Woman still has trace memories of herself as comic readers have known her for the past 50 years. Complete with her old patriotic costume! This is because the Gods, or perhaps someone else, have tampered with Diana's time-line, resulting in her rebirth overnight. Now she has to discover why the Gods abandoned the Amazons, avenge her community, possibly try to regain her old life and maybe even stop a world-ending event.

Although I'm not a fan of DC's new fondness for time manipulation storylines (just as they used to love tales of multiple dimensions), I can understand why they would attempt such a massive Wonder Woman overhaul - making Diana younger, more streetwise and more vulnerable. For a long time I've been trying to get into the character but I have no idea where to start, because Wonder Woman is not an especially identifiable character. Proud and stubborn, she doesn't even bother with a secret identity. And frankly, I don't think I can name a single villain in her rogues gallery except for Ares and Cheetah.

Wonder Woman also doesn't have iconic stories. There are no must-read tales like Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? or The Dark Knight Returns that plunge readers into a deeper understanding of her universe, values and psyche. This is despite the fact that Diana is always around as a longstanding, reliable member of the Justice League, and she's the final member of DC's Big 3 (with Superman and Batman). Apparently nobody, until now, was sure what to do with Wonder Woman?

That then leaves last year's highly acclaimed animated movie as the lone, obvious entry point for newcomers to Wonder Woman who want to experience the character in pretty much her original form. And this said, if it's the character's Greek mythology connections that make her unique, why not play those up for the costume redesign? I think fans would have responded much more warmly if Diana permanently donned the Amazonian armour worn by Donna Troy during her stint as Wonder Woman - or, alternatively, a simplified version of Diana's gold ceremonial armor in the Kingdom Come miniseries. That would have been a case of honouring Wonder Woman's roots instead of violently ripping her from them.


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Andrew said…
I understand the "it's hard to find a starting point" for Wonder Woman.

The traditional suggestions are Greg Ruckha's the Hitikeia or JLA: League of One.

Both of them left me a touch cold. So, I've been going through the process of reading the entire V2/3 run (which is essentially the same thing).

And it leaves me with two thoughts.

A: There is no good jumping in point.
B: The stories aren't as bad and disjointed as advertising. In fact, for the most point, they're quite good.

But if you twisted my arm, I'd say the Animated Movie is the best starting point. Alternatively, Phil Jimenez's run. Especially the "Day in the Life" one shot where Lois Lane interviews Diana.
Cleric said…
Well I have never seen/read the Wonder Woman comics. I know about the character, but my knowledge about what she can do and who she really is, are very limited.

Hearing about the change, doesn't bother me that much, but can understand why the fans would be angry about it all. But in all honesty, if they feel it's needed, it can either be a good thing, or backfire and turn out to be the worst idea. It all depends on what and how they do the change imo.

The first I'll see of Wonder Woman will probably be when the movie releases in 2013. And the way I'll get to know this character the first time (with the changes they'll be making), that will be the character to me. So in essence, looking back to how Wonder Woman was back then, will feel like a change to me then, and anyone else in my same position.

Somehow it's like they want to change the Wonder Woman character to something new and fresh, as they might feel bored with the 50 year old character and want to spice things up. But like I said, it's success will only be determined by what they plan to do, and how they do it.
MJenks said…
Why would the Olympus Gods even bother with her? As an Amazon, she wasn't Greek, and would most likely have identified more with the middle eastern gods or, when Pontus was conquered, the Roman version of the Gods (who were really Etruscan, anyway).

I'm not opposed to the change in the costume. Like I said last Friday, the jacket and spurs are...bleh.

And, I agree, if they wanted to play up her "Greek" origins, they should have given her something akin to Athena's battle regalia (minus the spear and shield).
Pfangirl said…
Andrew, thank you for the helpful suggestions.

Cleric, I don't mind if the filmmakers want to do a Wonder Woman film based on the new interpretation. I do think though that they should first do a faithful movie based on the original version of the character. Prove to the fans first that you genuinely care about the character, and simply money, before you start reimagining.

MJenks, I forgot about the Amazons actually being from Eastern Europe. I enjoyed your blog post on the whole issue, BTW. Of course, of all the character changes though, I don't think DC would ever lob off one of Wonder Woman's boobs - even if it is more "mythologically" accurate ;)

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